Medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors

Published 6:02 pm Monday, November 21, 2005

By By Jo Bonner
Starting last week, senior Americans are now able to sign up for the permanent Medicare prescription drug benefit to help cover some of the cost of their medications. January 1, 2006, will mark the first time in Medicare's history that this coverage is available.
The new prescription drug program offered by Medicare will help America's seniors meet the cost of their medication. Everyone with Medicare is eligible for the coverage, regardless of income level and resources, pre-existing conditions, or current expenses. This benefit will help America's seniors stay healthy longer and reduce the burden of financing prescription drugs.
For many seniors, prescription drugs are a part of everyday life. Our health care system uses prescription drugs to prevent, manage, and cure illnesses. As we age, most people need prescription drugs to stay healthy, and the Medicare drug benefit provides insurance against future high drug costs. These necessary medications can be expensive, and many people have been forced to cut back on their drug dosage or completely forgo them due to the cost. No senior should have to make that decision.
The drug benefit is voluntary and flexible. If needed, seniors can revisit their options and change their Medicare plan annually. To sign up, a senior needs his or her Medicare card, a list of the prescribed drugs currently taken, and the name of his or her pharmacy to get started.
It is important to sign up before the end of the year because those who sign up by December 31, 2005, will get coverage beginning January 1, 2006. Those who sign up after the end of the year will receive coverage one month after sign-up.
May 15, 2006, is the last day to sign up for coverage in 2006. Seniors who do not sign up by May 15, 2006, will have to wait until November 15, 2006, to join and may pay a penalty, if they choose to join after that time.
There are several resources containing information about the different plans or instructions on how to sign up:
Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) and talk to a Medicare representative, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Medicare &You handbook should have arrived in your mailbox. It is also available, along with other helpful information, at:
When Congress crafted this legislation in 2003, it was a priority to introduce competition to the process. In many instances, competition has already had the intended effect; it is driving down both drug prices and premiums for seniors. In fact, there are many plans available that have no premiums or no deductibles. According to Medicare, a typical beneficiary with no coverage today will save about 50 percent on prescription drug costs under the new program.
For seniors with limited means, additional help is also available. About one-third of all people with Medicare will qualify for extra assistance that will cover between 85 percent and almost 100 percent of prescription drug costs. You may qualify if your resources are less than $11,500 if you are single, or $23,000 if you are married and living with your spouse.
I hope all of America's seniors will take the time to study which plan might be best for you, so that by the New Year, you are receiving needed prescription drugs and, in turn, saving money.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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